Monday, August 6, 2012

Christ by the numbers - particularly the number 40

Mark 1:13 And He was in the wilderness forty days being tempted by Satan; and He was with the wild beasts, and the angels were ministering to Him.

For the past couple of days we have witnessed how the Bible uses specific numbers to convey meaning and truth about God and the Christian life.  We have looked at numbers one through ten, twelve, fourteen, forty, fifty and 1,000.  Today I want us to revisit the number forty, since it communicates so much about God's divine purposes, especially as they pertain to the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.

The More specific meaning of the number forty
In over 140 spots do we find mention of the number forty.  A quick survey will reveal that this number was often used to refer to God's testing of individuals.  As I think about what it is that God is looking to accomplish through the number forty in the lives of His people, three purposes come to mind:

1. Preparation Moses lived the first forty years of his live being prepared by God in the realm of human affairs.  Then for the second forty year period of time God prepared Moses' further in the realm of Divine affairs on the back side of a desert.  Why? So that He could be used of God to lead forth His people for the final forty years of his life.  Goliath taunted the people of God for forty days in 1 Samuel 17:16.  God used that time to orchestrate events wherein a young shepherd boy, David, would hear Goliath and be stirred by God to kill the Giant and make way for his eventual ascension to the throne of Israel.

In the life of Jesus we see him tempted in the desert for forty days prior to the beginning of his public ministry.  From the time Christ was baptized until he began to speak parables we see forty episodes in all four Gospels.  Then from the time He began to speak parables until He confronted the Pharisees in Matthew 23 was another forty episodes.  Then from that time until the night of His betrayal, prior to His crucifixion, passed another set of forty events in the life of Jesus Christ. 

2. Purification The Israelites wandered for forty years in the desert around the Sinai Peninsula for the unbelieving generation to die off and for the new generation to be purified.  Numbers 33 records the people traveling to 42 different spots in the course of those forty years.  Yesterday we identified 42 and 40 both referring to times of testing.  Christ never needed to be purified, since He himself was sinless. 

3. Proving Often we see the number forty associated with times of proving - whether it God proving Himself to His people or the people getting the chance to prove whether or not they'll operate in faith or unbelief.  The spies in Numbers 13 went to spy out the promised land for forty days - the the people's response proved that they were unbelievers. (Hebrews 3-4)  Jesus was tempted in the wilderness to prove  that He is the sinless, spotless lamb who provides the ability for every child of God to overcome temptation.  Following His resurrection from the dead, Jesus appeared over a period of forty days before He ascended in to heaven.   

As we have witnessed, the number 40 communicates the three points of testing in the life of the Christian: Preparation, Purification and Proving.  May this number, and really all the numbers of scripture, point the way to Christ - who alone can enable us to pass whatever test may come our way.